The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Irenaeus vs early church father Universalists

The following is quoted from this discussion:

I’ve read that Clement of Alexandria, after his conversion, traveled around the world to learn what the followers of the apostles taught. If true, then why should his opinion carry any less weight that Irenaeus? What evidence is there that Irenaeus “was taught by a student of an Apostle”? In light of the quotes below, the accuracy of any doctrinal views in the writing attributed to Irenaeus are questionable.

It’s certain that many of the writings of universalists, such as Origen, & possibly others before him, were destroyed by the pro eternal tormentists organization, both before & after the dark ages (c. 600-1600) of their rule by the sword of blood, Inquisitions, Crusades, burning opposers alive, during times of illiteracy, keeping the Bible from the masses, opposition to freedom of speech, etc.

If it weren’t for the Eastern Orthodox church, which has had a long tradition of universalist thought, one has to wonder how much of the early church fathers universalist writings would have survived.

Regarding the written work of Irenaeus:

“The chief work of Irenaeus, and the only one now extant, is entitled Adversus Haereses, or De Refutatione et Eversione falsae Seientiae, Libri V., the object of which is to refute the Gnostics. The original Greek is lost, with the exception of some fragments preserved by Epiphanius and other writers on heresies; but the work exists in a barbarous, but ancient Latin version, which Dodwell supposes to have been composed towards the end of the 4th century.”

"And though it must be admitted that on some points Irenaeus has put forth very strange opinions, it cannot be denied that, upon the whole, his Adversus Ifaereses “contains a vast amount of sound and valuable exposition of Scripture in opposition to the fanciful systems of interpretation which prevailed in his day.” The Adyerssus licereses was written in Greek, but it is unfortunately now no longer extant in the original. The English translator of it for Clark’s (Edinburgh) edition says that “it has come down to us only in an ancient Latin version, with the exception of the greater part of the first book, which has been preserved in the original Greek, through means of copious quotations made by Hippolytus and Epiphanius.” The text, both of the Latin and of the Greek, as far as extant, is often most uncertain, and this has made it a difficult task for translation into English. In all only three MSS. of it are known to exist at present; but there is reason to believe that Erasmus, who printed the first edition of it (1526), had others at hand in his preparation of the work for the press. The Latin version, spoken of above as the only complete version of it, was, according to Dodwell (Dissertt. Iren. 5, 9,10), prepared in the 4th century; but it is known that Tertullian in his day, used the same version, and it is highly probable, therefore, that it was made even as early as the beginning of the 3rd century. It is certainly to be deplored that the other codices which Erasmus must have used have not come down to us,’ or that they are, at least, not known to us, for they might, perhaps, enable us to determine more definitely his meaning in many passages now quite obscure to us in their barbaric Latin.

"… Objections to the genuineness of this work of Irenaeus were of course made by the so-called “liberal” German theologians, as it is one of the “historic links associating the Christianity of the present day with that of our Lord’s apostles and disciples,” and a work on which “we depend for satisfactory evidence respecting the-canon of the New Testament” (see below, under "Doctrines of Irenaeus, Froude’s attack against Irenaeus as a witness for the Gospels). They were made first by Semler, but were “so thoroughly refuted,” says Dr. Schaff (Ch. Hist. 1, 489, foot-note), “by Chr. G. F. Walch (De Asuthentia librolrum Irenaei, 1774), that Mohler and Stieren might have spared themselves the trouble.?”

"After the text has been settled, according to the best judgment which can be formed, the work of translation remains; and that is, in this case, a matter of no small difficulty. Irenaeus, even in the original Greek, is often a very obscure writer. At times he expresses himself with remarkable clearness and terseness; but, upon the whole, his style is very involved and prolix. And the Latin version adds to these difficulties of the original, by being itself of the most barbarous character. In fact, it is often necessary to make a conjectural re-translation of it into Greek, in order to obtain some inkling of what the author wrote. Dodwell supposes this Latin version to have been made about the end of the fourth century; but as Tertullian seems to have used it, we must rather place it in the beginning of the third. Its author is unknown, but he was certainly little qualified for his task. We have endeavoured to give as close and accurate a translation of the work as possible, but there are not a few passages in which a guess can only be made as to the probable meaning.

"…But at times he gives expression to very strange opinions. He is, for example, quite peculiar in imagining that our Lord lived to be an old man, and that His public ministry embraced at least ten years. But though, on these and some other points, the judgment of Irenaeus is clearly at fault, his work contains a vast deal of sound and valuable exposition of Scripture, in opposition to the fanciful systems of interpretation which prevailed in his day.

"…The two principal features of this edition are: the additions which have been made to the Greek text from the recently discovered Philosophoumena of Hippolytus; and the further addition of thirty-two fragments of a Syriac version of the Greek text of Irenaeus, culled from the Nitrian collection of Syriac mss. in the British Museum. These fragments are of considerable interest, and in some instances rectify the readings of the barbarous Latin version, where, without such aid, it would have been unintelligible. The edition of Harvey will be found constantly referred to in the notes appended to our translation."

"Until the discovery of the Library of Nag Hammadi in 1945, Against Heresies was the best-surviving description of Gnosticism. According to most biblical scholars, the findings at Nag Hammadi have shown Irenaeus’ description of Gnosticism to be largely inaccurate and polemic in nature.[2][3] Though correct in some details about the belief systems of various groups, Irenaeus’s main purpose was to warn Christians against Gnosticism, rather than accurately describe those beliefs. He described Gnostic groups as sexual libertines, for example, when their own writings advocated chastity more strongly than did orthodox texts.[4][5]

"But he makes more account than either John or Paul of the outward visible church, the episcopal succession, and the sacraments; and his whole conception of Christianity is predominantly legalistic. Herein we see the catholic churchliness which so strongly set in during the second century…

"Irenaeus is an enemy of all error and schism, and, on the whole, the most orthodox of the ante-Nicene fathers. We must, however, except his eschatology. Here, with Papias and most of his contemporaries, be maintains the pre-millennarian views which were subsequently abandoned as Jewish dreams by the catholic church…

“He is also strangely mistaken about the age of Jesus from a false inference of the question of the Jews, John 8:57…”

“In Irenaeus’ lengthy second-century book entitled Against Heresies, for example, why wasn’t Universalism included?” Indeed Very Many: Universalism in the Early Church

It wasn’t explicitly stated in the OP, but my main concern was an argument i’ve seen from someone else before, namely if “Irenaeus… was taught by a student of an Apostle”, then his doctrine of CI is true or trumps (or is more likely true) than the doctrine of UR of other early church fathers.

Similarly, the correspondent quoted in the OP was wondering which early church fathers views “carry more weight”.

The main point of my post is to suggest that maybe Irenaeus is not as weighty as my correspondents remarks might appear.

Origen, I cannot find a Greek text of Irenæus online, and it does APPEAR from translations that he taught eternal punishment, but we find that in the translations of even earlier writings, including those in the New Testament. However, in these early writings the word “aionios” has been translated as “eternal” or “everlasting” in our day. But we know from many contexts of its use, that it does not have that meaning. It means simply “lasting.”

The Greek word for “eternal” is “aidios” and that word is NEVER used in any early Christian writing in connection with the suffering of the lost.